The picture in the background is ‘The Procuress’ by Dirck van Baburen that is housed in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, but the general love of music is clearly the main theme in this painting.
Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) was one of the great masters from the Dutch Golden Age and now one of the world’s best loved and popular artists.
The poetry of Vermeer’s painting with its brilliant colours, exquisite textures and pearly light effects, is as vivid to us today as it must have been to people of the artist’s own time.
Vermeer is one of those rare artists whose works transcend the limits of time and place.
His images, whether a young girl in an exotic turban, an intimate musical ensemble in a sunlit interior, or a view across a quiet street have an immediacy that is as vivid today as it was to viewers in the seventeenth century Delft.
Through his remarkable mastery of paint we sense not only a variety of textures from the broken surface of a bread basket to the translucency of glass but also a radiant flow of light pervading his scenes.
We also wonder at the beauty of his colours which range from the lemon yellows of a woman’s jacket to the vibrant reds of a fur hat.
Finally, we encounter in his paintings people whose activities and preoccupations seem somehow so familiar and related to our own lives.
Lasagna is my favourite Italian dish of them all because of the oregano flavour it requires in its traditional form. Lasagna done properly really is the best of brilliant bunch!
You must acquire: Mince, garlic, oregano, mushrooms, roasted courgettes and roasted peppers, ketchup, egg, double cream, extra mature cheddar cheese, fresh lasagna strips, whole nutmeg and some fresh chives.
Fry the mince with the garlic and oregano (figure out your own proportions, I like both in excess). Add the mushrooms, the roasted vegetables and ketchup. Sometimes I just fry the mince with the oregano to make it an obvious lasagna with no other bits – just distinctive Italian flavour. After all it is the oregano that is the special part in lasagna and it needs to be exaggerated in the recipe and the finished product.
Beat an egg; add some cream and grate the cheese all-together in a bowl and you have your cheese sauce. Do loads of this and if there is any left over put it in a sandwich so it won’t get wasted.
Pour boiling water over the fresh pasta (you will need three sheets per person) and soak for five minutes.
Build the lasagna individually on big plates, layering the sauces (cheese on top of meat), garnish with chives and put some grated cheese on top.
Heat it for five in the oven so the cheese melts, grate some nutmeg on the top of the melted cheese and serve.
If you are doing all the starters it may be worth cutting the finished lasagna through the middle and eating only half. That way you can see the layers before eating and save the rest for a rainy day or later when you’ve made room. Sometimes I build the lasagna length ways then cross ways, sometimes I just put cheese on top and sometimes I just fry up the mince with oregano and keep the moisture to a minimum so that the meal stands up and doesn’t slop all over the plate. Practise makes perfect with all this and part of the fun is getting the thing to look perfect on the plate before it gets scoffed. It is not easy to do the first time, but like Toad in the Hole it is a real buzz when you’ve cracked it.
If you are having a true Italian night, then minestrone soup is the starter, garlic bread is the pre-starter and an Italian side salad with a bottle of Chianti is perfect.
For the garlic bread: French stick, garlic thing with ten cloves on it, butter, salt, pepper, tarragon, parsley, lemon juice and silver foil.
Separate all the garlic cloves and with a big knife lean on each one to squash it. Take the skin off and top and tail what’s left. Thinly slice one garlic clove and plonk the bits on a piece of buttered baguette (or just blend and butter the baguette). Repeat this with all pieces. More garlic the better or blend garlic, parsley, tarragon, butter, salt and pepper and lemon juice and put back in the fridge to harden. You can use chives and some mustard too. Cut the bread into ten slices (9 times) and make the crust flat by chopping the knob off. Smear butter all over one side of each slice. Then spread more butter over the garlic and make two parcels. Lay five pieces flat in one silver foil parcel, butter and garlic facing up and seal. Do the same with the other five. Then put them in the oven at 200 for ten minutes. The butter should melt down through the bread, garlic sit on top and edges be nice and crispy. Don’t put the bread back as a cylinder spear as the bits may fall off.
For the minestrone soup: Carrot, Leek, Onion, Celery, Olive Oil, Garlic, Potato, Tomato Puree, Vegetable Stock, Chopped Tomatoes, Butter or Cannelloni Beans, Spaghetti (snapped into short lengths), Savoy Cabbage, Pesto, Watercress (the whole bag), Chopped Tomato, Walnuts, Salt and Grated Cheddar Cheese.
Blend the carrot, onion and celery and fry them with garlic and potato for five minutes. Stir in the puree, stock and tomatoes and simmer for ten minutes. Lob in the beans and pasta for ten and then the cabbage and leek for the final 2. I had to add some water to dilute it a little as well. Blend the pesto ingredients to a liquid and drizzle over the soup. Muck around with this pesto sauce until it is perfect. Taste and blend and add bits and keep at it until it really does taste like pesto sauce. It is not easy to do and takes time but worth it in the end. Keep adding oil to keep the pesto runny.
For the side salad: Tortellini, Plum Tomatoes, Puree, Garlic, Red Wine Vinegar, Balsamic Vinegar, Mustard, Honey, Olive Oil, Provolone Cheese, Salami, Celery, Black Olives, Red Pepper, Red Onion, Parsley, Rosemary, Lemon Juice.
Cook the tortellini. Halve the tomatoes and grill until the skin is wrinkled and partially blackened.
For the vinaigrette, blend the tomatoes with the tomato paste, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, mustard and honey until smooth and then add the olive oil and vegetable oil and season. Toss the cheese, salami, celery, olives, bell pepper, onion, parsley, rosemary and lemon juice and the tortellini. Quite often I forget the lemon juice and spices or lob it in the blender for the vinaigrette, as you can’t really taste it. You have to muck around with the vinaigrette to get it to your liking. Stirring the oil in at the end takes some of the bite out of it. You must add the olive oil to a lesser or greater degree depending on who is eating with you. The more oil you put in the more bite it takes out and dilutes the vinaigrette. Alternatively, do it as instructed and add the vinaigrette half way through. That way you get the salad as it stands and a salad with vinaigrette and can compare the two. Drizzle the salad with the vinaigrette.